Please NOTE that this departure begins in Santiago with a flight to Port Stanley, Falklands and ends in Ushuaia, Argentina.
This itinerary will give you a brief idea of what you may encounter on this voyage. However we stress that this is an "expedition" style cruise. Our emphasis is on wildlife encounters, personal contact with the environs, visiting sites of historical interest and to a lesser extent scientific stations. Polar Pioneer is not a luxury ship although she is very comfortable with well-appointed cabins and common areas. She is maneuverable and strong, ideally suited for the sea passages between the Falkland Islands and South Georgia. The bridge is open to us at all times unless there is some tricky navigational situation.
Our actual program will vary to take best advantage of local conditions, spontaneous opportunities and wildlife. No two voyages are the same; there is always an element of the unexpected. This journey combines the best of the sub-Antarctic with the beauty of the Antarctic Peninsula.
Note: We recommend Expeditioners arrive into Santiago the day prior to flight departure. Expeditioners will gather in Santiago, Chile and have time to explore the fifth largest city in South America. The magnificent chain of the Andes, with its snow-capped heights, is in full view for much of the year, weather permitting, of course. There are plenty of things to keep you occupied before boarding your early morning flight to Port Stanley. Santiago rewards the patient traveler. Beyond the conservative conformity of Santiago Centro, and the soulless towers of the Las Condes financial district, there are thriving culinary and artistic enclaves that are a joy to uncover. Gourmets feast on world-class cuisine in Bellavista and Providencia, bohemians gather in the charming old district of Barrio Brasil, while the city is dotted with fine museums and a flourishing arts scene.
Make your way to the Santiago airport for your early morning departure to Port Stanley, Falkland Islands. Arriving in Stanley in the early afternoon, you will be met by a local guide and taken on an historic city tour. Your luggage will be transferred directly to Polar Pioneer. The tour is only short but it will give you an insight into this small Falkland Islands capital, taking in the Cathedral with its whale bone arch, the 1982 Battle Memorial and the mizzen mast from the famous SS Great Britain. Your official Stanley guidebook will come in handy to make your Stanley introduction more rewarding. In the early evening you will be taken to Polar Pioneer for boarding.
The expedition staff and our competent Russian crew will welcome us aboard Polar Pioneer in the afternoon. Sailing towards South Georgia, we settle into shipboard life and enjoy our first meal on board.
As we depart the Falkland Islands we will commence our lecture program. During the voyage’s various sea passages, we will learn about the wildlife, geology, history and geography of the Falklands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula. We will be given guidelines for approaching the wildlife and talk about the implications of the Antarctic Treaty, as well as being briefed about using our Zodiacs (inflatable rubber boats) for excursions from the ship. Our various destinations are a photographer’s paradise for the professional and amateur alike.
The mood on board is definitely casual. A favorite pastime is to stand at the stern deck watching the many seabirds, including majestic albatrosses and giant petrels, following in our wake, skillfully using the air currents created by the ship to gain momentum. Feeling transformed, we approach South Georgia, receptive and open.
Between the Falklands and South Georgia you will be entranced by the ceaseless flight of the many seabirds that follow our wake. You may decide to join the whale watchers on the bridge, or just relax and read a favorite book.
If time and weather conditions permit we could pass close to Shag Rocks, a fascinating group of jagged rocky islets protruding from the sea. Blue-eyed cormorants fill the air; their precarious nesting sites are white with guano.
We should approach South Georgia some time during the evening on the fourth day. South Georgia is a tiny speck in the South Atlantic Ocean, located in one of the most desolate parts of our planet. A 3,000-metre mountain range traces the spine of this long, narrow island. Between the mountains, shattered glaciers carve their way through tussock grass to the deeply indented coastline.
To us, South Georgia is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Though geographically speaking the island lies in the subantarctic area, as do the islands of Macquarie and Heard, it has a climate more in keeping with the true Antarctic regions. This is because South Georgia lies wholly within the Antarctic Convergence.
South Georgia is a British possession, having been claimed and named for King George III on 16 January 1775 by Captain James Cook, who records in his journal:
"The wild rocks raised their lofty summits till they were lost in the clouds and the valleys lay buried in ever-lasting snow. Not a tree or a shrub was to be seen, no, not even big enough to make a toothpick. I landed in three different places, displayed our colors and took possession of the country in His Majesty's name under a discharge of small arms."
(Quote from "Antarctic Housewife" by Nan Brown.)
On 20 May 1916, Sir Ernest Shackleton, Crean and Worsley stumbled into the busy whaling station at Stromness; hungry, exhausted and covered in grime. They had just made the first ever crossing of the mountains of South Georgia, from King Haakon Bay, to find help for their three exhausted companions left at Cave Cove and to rescue the men they had left on Elephant Island. They had sailed in the James Caird for 16 days under horrendous conditions and found safety in the tiny entrance of Cave Cove. This epic story of survival had begun with the sinking of their ship, the Endurance, in the Weddell Sea, six months earlier. As we explore South Georgia, we will have the opportunity to reflect on Shackleton’s epic journey.
Some other glorious destinations we plan to visit in South Georgia are listed below:
Originally a Norwegian sealing and whaling station, it was finally abandoned in 1965. Here we must be careful to avoid stepping on sleeping elephant seals as we skirt the ruins of factory buildings peering into the past, trying to imagine what it was like when whale processing was in full swing. Abandoned ships lie sunken alongside old wharves, while pitted concrete walls remind us of the more recent Falkland's War, which started here.
Sir Ernest Shackleton died from a heart attack during his final expedition on board the Quest on 6 May 1922. His body was laid to rest at Grytviken and we hope to make a pilgrimage to visit the cross his men erected in his memory looking out across beautiful Cumberland Bay.
St Andrews Bay
The sandy black beach is a resting place for hundreds of elephant seals that haul out on the shore to molt. Behind the beach, the sight and sound of tens upon tens of thousands of king penguins at different stages of their breeding cycle will be overwhelming. The glacial river that runs into the sea here will be alive with penguin chicks and elephant seal pups testing their aquatic skills. If we lift our gaze from the wildlife for a moment, we will glimpse the snow-capped peaks of some of the world's most spectacular mountains.
Imagine indented bays lined with bleached whalebones, teeming with fur seals and with penguins just “hanging about”. Here you have the opportunity to clamber through the tussock to a spectacular plateau offering magnificent views across the island and the waters beyond. A careful descent leads us to a magnificent Macaroni penguin rookery.
We will aim to visit Prion Island where we can sit quietly to watch serene wandering albatrosses sitting proudly on eggs or cute downy chicks. We may be blessed by the performance of an intimate courtship dance, or may witness a youngster being lovingly fed. We watch adolescents exercising their wide wing spans, trying to launch themselves
into the air, as they realize that Mum and Dad will no longer feed them and they must leave the island in search of food.
Other stunning wildlife destinations we may visit include:
Elsehul Bay, Royal Harbour, Cooper Bay, Drygalski Fjord, Larsen Harbour, Stromness, Salisbury Plains, Gold Harbour
Right Whale Bay, Possession Bay
Leaving South Georgia we head across the Scotia Sea in a south-westerly direction towards the South Orkneys, a stunning group of remote and isolated islands.
The ocean takes on a whole new perspective once we are surrounded by the surreal presence of floating ice sculptures. The memory of the sight of your first iceberg will remain with you forever. Depending on sea travel and ice conditions we may visit beautiful Shingle Cove on Coronation Island where we have our first view of Adelie penguins, or perhaps land at the Argentinean station of Orcadas, where the remains of the 1904 Bruce Expedition hut can still be seen.
Today we set course for the Antarctic Peninsula. Our recaps and lectures will resume and there will be time to gather strength for the busy days ahead. We will attempt firstly to land on historic Elephant Island at the outer limit of the South Shetlands.
A host of choices is now open to us and, depending on the ice and weather conditions, the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula is ours to explore. Our experienced leaders, who have made countless journeys to this area, will use this expertise to design our voyage from day to day. This allows us to make best use of the prevailing weather and ice conditions and wildlife opportunities. As we are so far south, we will experience approximately 18- 20 hours' daylight. There is plenty of time for sleep when you get home!
If the weather is kind we will aim for Elephant Island, a half-submerged mountain cloaked with an ice sheet at the outer limits of the South Shetlands. After their ship the Endurance was crushed in pack ice in the Weddell Sea, Ernest Shackleton and his men climbed into three open boats and finally, on 14 April 1916, made landfall on this tiny toe of rock and ice in the vastness of the Southern Ocean.
The men had not been on land for sixteen months! We may sail past Cape Valentine to see the beach where the men first put ashore. Weather permitting; we hope to follow the coastline six miles west to Point Wild. We will attempt to make a landing where the men eventually set up camp under two of their upturned open boats and some old tents, while Sir Ernest, Worsley and four other crew members sailed to South Georgia for help.
Conditions at this point are often unsuitable for landing due to the large swells surging around hidden rocks, but it is always worth a try! Just to set eyes on this hallowed site sends shivers down the spine.
Once we arrive in the calmer waters of the Bransfield and Gerlache Straits, we will generally make landings or Zodiac excursions two to three times a day.
Sometimes we will cruise along spectacular ice cliffs, or follow whales that are feeding near the surface. Our Western chefs will prepare delicious meals that, accompanied by good conversation, will become a focal point of our shipboard life.
There are many exciting places we can choose to visit. A sample of these follows:
Half Moon Island
A wildlife rich island tucked into a neat bay at the eastern end of Livingston Island. On a clear day the glaciers and mountains of Livingston Island dominate the scene. There is a large chinstrap penguin rookery tucked in between basaltic turrets colored by yellow and orange lichens. Gulls nest on these turrets and there are often fur seals and elephant seals hauled out on the pebble beach’s.
At one extremity of the island there is a large colony of nesting blue-eyed shags. At the other end lies a small Argentine station that is sometimes occupied by scientists conducting research on the penguin colony and surrounding waterways.
Visiting Deception Island is like making a journey to the moon. We sail through the narrow opening of Neptune's Bellows to enter the flooded volcanic crater. Inside is an unworldly scene, virtually devoid of life. Glaciers flow down from the edge of the crater, littered by black volcanic ash.
We can explore the lifeless remains of a derelict whaling station and a vacant British base, or climb to the rim of the crater. Steam rises from the shore indicating that the water is actually warm enough for a swim, for those who dare. Outside the crater, if conditions allow, we might land at Bailey Head to explore the enormous chinstrap penguin rookery that featured in David Attenborough's Life in the Freezer series.
A protected bay surrounded by magnificent peaks and spectacular glaciers, the rocky cliffs of this unforgettable piece of heaven provide perfect nesting sites for blue-eyed shags, terns and gulls. The serenity of Paradise Harbour envelops us once the sound of the dropping anchor fades from our ears. This is a haven for whales and sometimes we meet humpbacks, orcas and minkes, as well as crabeater seals, as we explore the bay in Zodiacs. Imagine being so close to a whale that when he surfaces to blow, the fishy spray of his exhalation momentarily blurs your vision. Words cannot describe this experience.
If the ice conditions allow, standing on the bow of Polar Pioneer and quietly moving through the narrow Lemaire Channel will be one of the highlights of our voyage. Cliffs tower 700 metres directly above the ship. The water can be so still that perfect reflections are mirrored on the surface. Often gigantic icebergs clog the channel, creating navigational challenges for our captain and crew, and they may even obstruct our passage.
Other places we may visit around the Antarctic Peninsula are: Pleneau Island, Neko Harbour, Andvoord Bay, Vernadsky, a Ukrainian scientific base, Port Lockroy, a historic British base that is now a museum and post office or a variety of other surprises.
Time to head to Tierra del Fuego, with lectures and videos to complete our Antarctic education. This is a time for reflection and discussion about what we have seen and felt, and the impact this voyage has had on our attitude to life. As we approach the tip of South America, our Captain may sail close to legendary Cape Horn, weather conditions permitting.
During the early morning we cruise up the Beagle Channel, before quietly slipping into dock in Ushuaia about 0700.
As soon as customs have cleared the ship we will be free to disembark.
It’s a busy time, with people saying farewell to our crew and to fellow passengers who have shared the intensity of exploring this magnificent white wilderness. We head off in our different directions, hopefully with a new found sense of the immense power of nature.
* Itinerary may be subject to change
|Per Person USD|
Ushuaia - Falklands
Charter Flight Falklands/Punta Arenas
Begins Falklands, ends Ushuaia
Charter Flight Punta Arenas-Falklands
Fly Antarctica to Punta Arenas
Fly Punta Arenas to Antarctica
Embark Ushuaia, Disembark Port Stanley
Charter Flight Falklands/Punta Arenas
Embark Port Stanley, Disembark Ushuaia
Fly Antarctica to Punta Arenas
Fly Punta Arenas to Antarctica
Airfare Not Included. Rates are per person, based on twin-share. Single costs are 1.7 times the twin rate.
Mandatory Flight for Fly/Cruise (Punta Arenas to Antarctica) and Cruise/Fly (Antarctica to Punta Arenas) - $1200
Optional Flight Punta Arenas / Falklands or Falklands / Punta Arenas $660
Adventure options must be pre-booked and paid for prior to start of the trip. Space is subject to availability. Some activities require experience.
Optional Activities: Kayaking $995-1295, South Georgia Alpine Crossing $1250, Photography $250, Camping is Free.
Mandatory Emergency Evacuation Insurance Required. All trips subject to possible fuel surcharge.